I'm often asked by people how they can find out about how their local
providers are doing. The short answer is you probably can't. I'm not
saying you can't get some kind of answer; I'm simply suggesting that you
probably can't get an answer that is meaningful. Here's why:
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- The information you receive will be carefully filtered.
You probably won't be able to talk with the programmers themselves or
the Y2K project manager. The best you can do is obtain a statement from
the public relations department. Even this will have been carefully
reviewed by the legal department. Because companies do not want to lose
customers, alarm investors, or deflate employee morale, they will
generally report that they are making "good progress" -- regardless of
where they really are. (I dare you to find a company willing to admit
that they are in trouble.) As a result, it is important that you not
make the mistake of confusing progress with compliance.
These are not the same.
- You probably cannot get independent verification. Nearly all the
data available is self-reported. It has probably not been
independently verified. Providers are asking us to take their word for
it. While I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt, I've worked in
corporate America long enough to know that managers under pressure are
tempted to distort the truth and overstate their progress. Taking the
word of the people in charge is like asking students to grade their own
tests. I continue to be amazed at how naive reporters are in this
matter. Some company issues a press release saying they are close to
being compliant and journalists uncritically report the claim as though
it were gospel truth. As I've said before, where is investigative
journalism when you need it?
- The provider is dependent on infrastructure it can't control.
Even assuming that a company or government agency is making good
progress and telling the public the truth, it is dependent on suppliers
outside of its direct control. These suppliers must be compliant or the
company will have to find alternative suppliers. In some situations,
this will be impossible, especially when it comes to basic
infrastructure services. As an example, consider the Social Security
Administration (SSA). This is one federal agency that has worked long
and hard to achieve its present Y2K-compliant status. I happen to
believe that their claim to compliance is legitimate. However, without
reliable electricity to keep their computers online, telecommunications
to make electronic fund transfers possible, the Financial Management
Service (FMS) to print the checks, and banks to receive those funds,
SSA's compliance is irrelevant -- beneficiaries still won't have access
to their funds.
The bottom line is that it is probably a waste of time to
spend much time trying to find out whether or not your favorite provider
is going to make it. Even if you could know the truth, it's no guarantee
that the provider will be able to deliver their goods or services. As a
result, I think your time is better spent making contingency plans.
Assume that there will be disruptions and plan accordingly.